Invited to Oman for a four-month tennis ambassadorship and coaching, Italian professional tennis player Horst Reider is quite surprised to discover that there's not a lot of movement happening on the national front for tennis as a sport.
He finds this a missed opportunity commending Omani tennis player Fatma al Nabhani for doing so much for the promotion of the sport and tennis to even have a footprint in a country like Oman.
Over the last two months, Horst had been organizing matches and coaching left and right in Salalah and since there are no established tennis academies in the Sultanate, the tennis courts of Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara has become front and centre of the growing tennis community in Dhofar Governorate.
At 24, as per the Association of Tennis Professionals Ranking, Horst's career-high ranking is at 1326 while his International Tennis Federation Singles Ranking is at 1131.
As a professional tennis player, Horst has taken a four-month break from professional playing to serve as a tennis ambassador for Lux Tennis — a leading tennis management company for the finest luxury resorts globally. Used to jet setting lifestyle flying to different countries to professionally compete, Horst is trying to use his time in Oman to make a little difference in how the community looks at tennis as a sport.
His landing in Oman over two months ago, a stopover in the UAE and his previous reviews of different tennis standing in the Middle East, he said that there is a huge potential for Arab players including the Omani to make it big in international games especially that there are plenty of opportunities to get support and sponsorship which is very important when one is playing professionally.
"Tennis is a very complex sport. It's not only physical but it's also tactics and technique. It's all about mental strength and coordination. You have to be fast, you have to be mobile and flexible. You need to be quick in reacting," he said.
"The reality of tennis right now is that there's no one in the Middle East that's part of the top 500 international rankings. Few have earned high points. I know there's one player from Kuwait and another from Jordan. The Middle East definitely needs expertise," he explained.
He added, "So what's happening now, there's already a Rafa Nadal tennis academy in Kuwait and this is good because this will help elevate the players within that particular country. I hope that it happens in Oman, too," he said.
"To have a tennis academy would really help grow the sports within Oman. But I think personally, the culture has to change a little bit athletics wise, people need to be more active. The sport needs to be accessible too. Most of the courts here are found in hotels," he noted.
Horst clarified that tennis is a game for everybody. It's not just a game for Europeans or expats. Everybody can play the game given the right training.
"I started playing in 2002. I live near a tennis club in Italy. My parents started playing tennis when they were 30+ years old but did not pursue it professionally. They were passionate about the game that when I was born, they introduce me to it. They made me play other sports too including skiing and football but tennis became my favourite," he said.
"For those starting in the sport, you can begin by getting a good pair of tennis shoes. If they want to try it out, they can visit some local tennis courts and talk to the coaches. For instance, for those who come to me, I lend them the equipment. All they have to bring is their shoes and a good athletics wear," he urged.
Asked what is usually his biggest challenge as a coach, Horst explained, "Usually, it's even better if someone hasn't played tennis at all. Sometimes I have guests here who already played tennis for 10 years. They always learn it in their own style. They never learn it from a coach. They just played for the sake of playing. It's harder to re-organize their techniques in playing. Getting a coach early on is better as for my case, I can already teach them the right ways and bring them to the right direction of playing the game," he said.
Horst believes that Italy has one of the best tennis education systems in the world right now and can only get better.
"I have the Italian tennis education system as part of me and my teaching. I am a certified tennis coach by the Italian Tennis Federation, that's why I think, while I am here, it's a huge opportunity for Omani tennis fans or even non-Omanis who love tennis to get their lessons first hand. I will teach them the way that I was taught tennis and in a sense, it is getting the world's best practices. I hope to bring professional tennis expertise to the Middle East," he shared.
"For those starting late, like people in their 30s or older but still wanting to learn tennis, it's not too late. Training wise, I will not be able to bring you to a professional level for sure but you will learn all the necessary techniques to play a good game," he said.
To be clear, Horst explained that competition in tennis is very high. But the country has to start somewhere.
"Fatma (al Nabhani), I don't know her personally but I watched her from the Doha Open. She's a professional player and ranks around 200 in the league [if I'm not mistaken]. I think there should be more Fatma in the Middle East. I don't know how Arabian women do in other sports but in tennis, there's not a lot who plays. Fatma is the only one I know of and she is doing massively for the popularity of the sports in Oman," he noted.
Before his visit ends in April, Horst was hoping someone can organize a friendly match that would include as one of the highlights a game between him and Fatma, something he said will create more buzz for the game in Oman.
He said he already talked to a few people and even Anantara Salalah has already reached out to Fatma for a match to be made. He explained that for any development, they would definitely do a good promotion for it.
But while the match isn't set yet, Horst said he will continue organising some smaller tournaments for amateurs in Salalah. He already organized a few and the latest tournament had been participated in by nearly 30 competitors from Salalah.
Horst offers private lessons based at the court of Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara. To join one of Horst's classes, you can reach him through his Instagram: @horstrieder144 or through @anantarasalalah.